Notice: This article was written by Steve Jordan, Coach's
Notebook. Email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The man to man matchup is basketball in its purest form. If the
players are well trained in fundamental defensive skills
and are willing to work as hard as possible, their man to man defense will be be tough to
beat. Even a team that is physically smaller can stymie their larger opponent by
performing their individual defensive responsibilities with dogged determination.
Sometimes, even though your team is the more athletic and appears to be working hard, the
man to man defense simply doesn't work. Why does that happen? Here are some things to
- Fatigue When players tire, or for some reason are not motivated to put
forth their best effort, their footwork becomes sloppy. Instead of slide-stepping in front
of their opponent, they reach with their hands, stick out a knee or a hip or cross their
feet. The result is that their man drives by them and forces the rest of the team to
sacrifice their defensive positioning to help out. The solution is a substitution.
- Not Defending the Pass Your players are only working hard when their
man has the ball. If defenders near the ball allow their man to receive a pass, then the
ball handler is never really in trouble. The ball handler may not succeed in beating his
defender, but that is no big deal if he can easily pass to a teammate. Man to man defense
must include pass prevention. If the ball handler is stopped by his defender and can't
pass the ball because everyone is covered, the defense achieves a significant advantage.
If the defense isn't willing to prevent their man from receiving the ball, they are only
doing half their job.
- Not Blocking Out Watch for players blocking out when the shots go up.
If everyone's eyes are up on the ball as it arcs to the basket, you can be sure the
offense is cutting around the defense to get better position for rebounds. You cannot
afford to give your opponent extra shots.
- Defensive Switches Is the offense doing a good job of setting screens?
Some teams use screens on the ball and away from the ball very effectively. A good screen
usually requires the defense to make a switch. Eventually, switches result in a mismatch
that may be exploited on a one on one situation, but usually the main problem is that
eventually the switch doesn't occur. The offense momentarily has an unguarded player that
gets an open shot.
- No Help The defensive players furthest from the ball have the
responsibility to cover any defensive mistakes. Should a dribbler beat his man with a
drive, or should a switch break down, the player(s) furthest from the ball are the last
hope to protect the basket, even if they must leave their man in the process. If they are
lucky, enough offensive delay can be created to allow for the defense to recover. On a
more proactive note, players away from the ball are in a unique position to pick off
passes lobbed over the immediate defenders.
Build your fundamentals from the feet up. You will need to
demonstrate and practice a basic defensive stance before you can hope to implement effective team
defense. If the players do not know these fundamental items, they will continually be compromised.
- Keep your feet as wide as your hips, or slightly wider.
- One foot should be slightly forward. Which one? Generally, the high foot will be the one nearest the
center of the floor where your help defense is. Or, if you are playing an opponent that is strong with
one hand, the high foot would be towards his weak side.
- Knees should be clearly bent. Straight people are stiff and easy to drive around. Keep your butt down.
- Stay on the balls of your feet and be ready to shift direction.
- Use slide steps to move laterally. Don't cross your feet unless to need to run to catch up.
- The back should be fairly straight. Players who lean forward have a hard time moving backward
against a ball handler.
- Don't reach or slap at the ball. Keep your palms up when the hands are low. If the dribbler stops, one
hand should mirror the ball, the other should stay high to block vision.
- Don't watch the ball handler's eyes or you will be misdirected. Concentrate on the belly button. Where
the belly button goes, the player goes.
Positioning is crucial in the man to man defense. Here are the primary rules to teach
- Stay between the offensive player and the basket. Force your opponent to go around you
to get to the basket.
- Keep both your man and the ball in sight at all times. Its helpful to point one hand
at the man, one at the ball, because your body alignment will change properly.
- If your opponent insists on dribbling, herd him/her to the closest corner of the court,
sideline or toward your teammates who can help.
- Ballhandler has not dribbled yet
- If he is holding the ball below his waist, stay an arm s length away and be prepared to defend the dribble, palms up and low
- If he raises the ball above the waist, close in, one hand mirroring the ball
- If he puts ball over his head, play chest to chest, both hands up
- If he manages to bring the ball back down below the waist, retreat to (a)
- Ballhandler picks up dribble (anywhere on court)
- Apply full pressure to make passing difficult as possible, hands high
- If ballhandler is at sideline, straddle his leg towards center court to force sideline pass
- Do not try to grab the ball and force a held ball. We want a 5 second call or a weak pass we can pick off
- If your man is one pass away, keep the hand closest to the ball in the passing lane. Do
NOT let your man receive an easy pass. If the ball handler has an easy pass, he is never
under any pressure. Do not lose sight of your man, ever.
- If your man is two passes away, keep one foot in the key. This will enable you to help
if a teammate gets beat on a drive. Do not lose sight of your man.
- If your man is more than two passes away from the ball, put both feet in the key. Don't
relax. As soon as the ball is passed, your man will no longer be 2 passes away!
Teach your players to play man to man defense, even if your primary defensive strategy
is using a zone. It is very useful to change defenses throughout the game. Your players
will have greater success in the future if they learn their man to man skills early, not
just with future coaches, but in all the basketball they play throughout their lives.